HOUSTON - Before polls closed Tuesday at 7 p.m., Harris County Election officials sent a request to the Texas Secretary of State for an extension to count the vote. And after a back and forth between state and local officials, Harris Co. Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria confirmed a court order will be looked into.
Typically, under state law, all counties are required to report results for the Texas Primary Elections within 24 hours of the polls closing. However, Republicans and Democrats in Harris County faced several issues Tuesday when it came time to vote.
According to Harris Co. GOP Chair Cindy Siegel, who spoke to FOX 26 Political Reporter Greg Groogan, the issues Tuesday stemmed from malfunctioning machines, supply issues, staffing problems, and "stick paper" ballots.
She called the problems faced Tuesday the "worst in 40 years" and quoted veteran poll watchers who said, "it can't get any worse."
Additionally, Siegel expressed disappointment that Harris County had not yet received all election supplies as late as last Friday. She also said she reached out to County Election Administrator Isabelle Longoria to offer volunteers, but the offer was rejected.
Voters and state officials shared their frustration with FOX 26 arguing it was not a political issue, but a lack of resources.
"When people tried to put them in the scanners, the second page jammed up," Texas State Senator Paul Bettencourt said. "If it gets crumpled, they can’t put it in. They literally have to hand key the results in."
"This is by far the worst run primary I’ve ever seen," said Bettencourt. "It’s not the [Republican and Democratic] parties’ problem. It’s the fact, the central count they contract with, has just blown it. Terrell County is using the same exact equipment. They’re not having these problems. But we’re having these problems with both political parties here in Harris County."
And as a result, both voters and election workers were overwhelmed.
"They had to get the other people from the other side and hook up the republican voting booths," one voter, John Brand said. "Now they’re getting more [voting machines] up. There’s tons of people waiting in there just to vote."
In a statement from Texas Secretary of State John Scott, he "offered assistance" to Harris County to ensure "that all ballots are timely tabulated in accordance with state law."
"We are closely monitoring the progress of ballot tabulation in Harris County to ensure all relevant election laws are followed and that legitimately cast ballots by Harris County voters in both the Democratic and Republican Primary Elections are counted accurately and timely," Secretary Scott said. "Harris County election officials have indicated to our office that the delay in ballot tabulation is due only to damaged ballot sheets that must be duplicated before they can be scanned by ballot tabulators at the central count location. Our office stands ready to assist Harris County election officials, and all county election officials throughout the state, in complying with Texas Election Code requirements for accurately tabulating and reporting Primary Election results. We want to ensure that all Texans who have cast a ballot in this year's Primary Elections can have confidence in the accuracy of results."
Secretary Scott also issued the following bullet points from the Texas Election Code:
- Section 66.053 of the Texas Election Code, which has been law since at least 1986, requires that precinct election records be delivered to the appropriate authority, in this case the respective parties holding primary elections, not later than 24 hours after the polls close in each election. Failing to deliver the precinct election returns to the appropriate authority by the deadline is a Class B Misdemeanor.
- Section 65.002 of the Texas Election Code, which has been law since 2009, requires that the counting of ballots be conducted continuously until all ballots are counted.
- Section 31.005 of the Texas Election Code, which has been law since at least 1986, empowers the Texas Secretary of State to order a person performing official functions in the administration of any part of the electoral processes to correct offending conduct if the secretary determines that the person is exercising the powers vested in that person in a manner that delays or cancels an election that the person does not have specific statutory authority to delay or cancel, unless acting under an order of a court of competent jurisdiction.
- While Texas law allows provisional ballots and corrected mail-in ballots to be counted up to six days after Election Day, early votes and Election Day votes must be counted within 24 hours of the polls closing on Election Day (Sec. 66.053).
In a press statement from Harris Co. Elections Administrator, considering the delays in the election results, officials will be settling the case in court.
"Today, on Election Day, after speaking with the Central Count Committee for both Republican and Democratic parties and discussing changes to election law as a result of SB1, Harris County Central Count Committee and representatives from both political parties and their attorneys, the Elections Administrator and the County Attorney’s Office had a phone call with the Secretary of State’s Office to discuss the 30-year-old provision requiring precinct election records to be delivered within 24 hours after the polls close.
"After discussing the potential criminal and new civil penalties associated with delayed reporting and the outdated nature of such a law, and at the recommendation of the Secretary of State’s Office, the political parties decided to seek a court order regarding the time associated with counting the ballots.
"The Early Voting results were reported shortly after the polls closed, Election Day results will be reported, and the remainder of the reconciliation process will continue over the next few days, as we prioritize accuracy over speed."
Incumbent Dan Patrick, who is seeking a third term as Lieutenant Governor, issued his own statement Tuesday, calling it a ‘disaster’ and similar to the previous election.
"The Democrats in Harris County made up their own rules last election. This election is proving to be a disaster," he said. "The issues at the polls today strike at the heart of exactly why we passed Senate Bill 1, the Election Integrity Bill, and why the Texas Senate will continue to pass even stronger election security reforms that improve the integrity of our elections."
He also called out Harris Co. Judge Lina Hidalgo, who is also running for re-election in the primaries.
"Lina Hidalgo must answer for this debacle of her own creation and must be held accountable."